When I’m digging through various old newspapers looking for things to write about, I sometimes come across incredible headlines. My favorite so far appeared in the January 10, 1886 Salt Lake Tribune. It reads: Salt Lake Spooks – Hobgoblins on a Bender – The Haunted House on West Temple Street. I imagined these creepy little creatures running around a house causing all sorts of problems. Luckily for us, the reporter was very interested in the reports of strange things happening in this house and decided to take a look for himself.
Before we get to the story of the odd happenings in the house, the story of the site itself is pretty unusual. Currently, on the northwest corner of West Temple and 300 South in downtown Salt Lake City sits the charming and historic Peery Hotel, built in 1910. In 1886 that corner was known as the “Buttermilk Johnson” corner. Instead of a hotel, there was an “old, rickety, rambling adobe house.”1The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah) · 10 Jan 1886, Sun · Page 4
“Buttermilk Johnson” was a polygamist who earned the nickname by selling buttermilk to travelers making their way to California. Apparently, selling buttermilk back then was practically criminal, because normally it was given away for free, and simply by doing this he lowered his social standing in the community and was forever known as Buttermilk Johnson. 2The Religious and Political Memoirs of James Henry Moyle What a way to earn a nickname eh? I guess it could have been worse.
Buttermilk Johnson sold the property years before the rumors of hauntings made the Salt Lake Tribune. By this time there were four to five families renting various parts of the house. The paper described the house as being “so admirably arranged for ghostly visitors.” The rear of the home was the oldest portion, and the house was said to have had an unusual number of doors, windows, and narrow passages, as it had been added onto numerous times.
When the reporter went to the home to interview its residents about the ghostly inhabitants, he first spoke to a “Mr. Smith.” He had to use an alias during his reporting in order to save the people from embarrassment and ridicule. Mr. Smith lived in the rear portion of the home and was quick to give the reporter a tour of the premises and share some of his spooky encounters. In order to get into Mr. Smith’s apartment, you had to pass through a small entry room. There was one door to the outside, and then once inside another door to enter Mr. Smith’s living quarters. There were no other doors to get into or out of his apartment.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith told the reporter that almost on a nightly basis they have been woken up around midnight by loud knocks on their bedroom door. They described the knocks as coming in groups of three followed by silence and then three more knocks. Mr. Smith gets up to see who’s there only to find the entryway open and the door to the outside was still closed and locked. As soon as he would get back into bed the knocking would begin again. They also said they would hear knocking on the walls and the people who lived in the other portion of the house would have no explanation as to what could be causing them.
The reporter then found that an older woman and her daughter had up until recently inhabited the rooms that shared the wall with the Smith family. Without mentioning ghosts the reporter asked the women if they ever heard any unusual noises while living in the house. Apparently, like the Smith family they were hesitant to talk about their experiences. After a few minutes they decided to tell the reporter what happened to them while they lived in the house.
The women had two rooms in the house. One they used as a bedroom, and the other as a kitchen. They said they were often woken up by strange rapping sounds from both rooms. Most often, the sounds would come from directly under their bed, as if someone was knocking on the underside of the floor. They would look under the bed and nothing was there. The knocking always occurred in threes and would pause and then start up again.
After they had been in the house for a couple of weeks, strange things started to happen more frequently, and seemed to be escalating. They said they began hearing a rattling pot lid that sat on the stove in the kitchen. They were quick to point out that when this happened there was no fire in the stove and so the rattling lid could not be caused by steam. Finally they placed a heavy flatiron on top of the lid, and as soon as they left the room the rattling would start up again. As if the knocking and rattling pot lid weren’t enough, the women also said they would hear “the most dismal groans and screams”, often coming from beneath the floor. They lived in the house for over a year, never saying a word about the strange things happening inside.
The reporter also spoke with a man who lived in rooms on the second floor. He pointed out that his section of the building was not as haunted as the older rooms. He did say that every now and then he would hear unusual knockings, but the thing that disturbed him the most was what he called the woman on the stairs. He said that he’s heard her more than once. He would be in his rooms and hear what sounded like rustling skirts on the stairs outside his door. He would hear the sound come up the stairs, go down the hallway and walk onto a balcony at the front of the house. He followed the sound and was fully expecting to find a woman standing on the balcony but found no one there.
And that’s where the tale of the haunted house on West Temple ends, or does it? While the current owners of the Peery Hotel are averse to talking about possible paranormal activity, it has long been rumored to be haunted.
- PeeryHotelEdited: Tamanoeconomico - Wikimedia Commons
- Screenshot-2020-06-09-13.03.30: Sanborn Map Company, Jan 1884
- Screenshot-2020-06-30-11.06.55: Old Johnson Residence Torn Down Apr 1888 Deseret News (Salt Lake City, Utah) · 17 Apr 1888, Tue · Page 3
- Hobgoblins On A Bender – The Dead History: Jennifer Jones